Spacing And Retrieval Practice


Spacing And Retrieval Practice

Two ways to supercharge your language learning

By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft

Spacing and retrieval practice are two highly effective methods of learning a language. They both involve organizing how you learn, but in different ways – spacing involves taking breaks between study sessions while retrieval practice is about actively testing yourself to recall information.

 Both techniques can be used together or separately, and they help students learn languages more effectively than traditional rote memorization alone.

 In this article we will discuss why these strategies work and how you can use them for maximum benefit when learning a new language.

three girls sitting on the floor with extended legs and overlaid Spacing And Retrieval Practice

The forgetting process

Forgetting is a natural part of learning. It occurs when memories are not accessed for an extended period of time, resulting in the weakening or loss of the memory over time.

 The forgetting process can be seen across different types of memories such as episodic, procedural, and semantic memory. 

Let’s discuss how the forgetting process works and provide examples to illustrate this concept.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Episodic memory

Episodic memory is one type that can be affected by the forgetting process. It involve personal experiences we have had in our lives such as events that happened on specific days or places we visited during past vacations. As these memories age without being recalled, they become harder to remember until eventually they are forgotten completely due to disuse over time. 

For example, if you went to a concert five years ago with friends but haven’t thought about it since then, chances are you won’t remember much about it today unless someone brings it up again or you look at old photos from that event which might help jog your memory.

Procedural memory

Procedural memory is another type of memory susceptible to the effects of forgetting over time due to lack of use or practice. It stores information related to skills like playing an instrument or riding a bike. 

When these skills are not practiced for an extended period of time, we often forget how to do them and will need to practice again before being able to perform the skill once more.

Semantic memory

The final type of memory affected by forgetting is semantic memory.

 Semantic memories store factual knowledge such as facts, definitions, or words in a language. As time passes, these memories become less accessible and more difficult to recall due to disuse. 

For example, if you haven’t studied a foreign language in years, it is likely that most of the words you learned have been forgotten and would need to be relearned.

Overall, forgetting is an inherent part of the learning process and affects different types of memory in its own unique way. It is important to recognize that although we may forget some things over time, we are still capable of learning new information and retaining it for longer periods of time. 

Understanding this concept can help us better manage our memories and ensure that important ones are not lost due to lack of use. 

This is why we can use  spacing and retrieval practice to prevent our memories from fading away when learning a language.


“Forgetting is an inherent part of the learning process”


G. Vincent-Bancroft


Spacing involves breaking your study sessions into smaller chunks and then taking breaks in between. This way, the material is better absorbed because it can be processed more slowly and deeply over time. It also encourages the development of long-term memory pathways which will help you recall information at a later date. 

Spaced practice works well for learning vocabulary and grammar rules because it gives your brain time to really absorb the material.

Spaced-Repetition Schedule
After First Exposure20-24 hrs
2nd Revision24-36 hrs
3rd Revision24-36 hrs
4th Revision24-36 hrs
5th revision2-3 days later
6th Revision2-3 days later
Thereafterevery few weeks*P.A. Wozniak
Spaced-Repetition Schedule

Retrieval practice

Retrieval practice, on the other hand, is focused around actively testing yourself on what you have learned. This can be in the form of quizzes, mini tests or simply asking yourself questions about what you know.

 Retrieval practice helps strengthen memory pathways and helps you remember the language better. It also gives you an indication of what topics need more work or where areas of weakness may be present.

Using these two techniques together can help maximize your learning potential. By spacing out sessions, you allow yourself to process material more deeply while retrieval practice provides a way to test your knowledge and recall information accurately. 

With regular practice and patience, these techniques can help you learn a language more effectively than with rote memorization alone.

How to use spacing and retrieval practice

To get started with combining spacing and retrieval practice:

1. Break up your study sessions into smaller chunks of time, allowing yourself to focus on specific topics or aspects of the language.

2. Take regular breaks between study sessions, to give your brain a chance to rest and absorb the material more deeply.

3. Test yourself on what you’ve learned, either through quizzes  or by asking yourself questions. This can help you identify which topics are weaker than others and need extra work.

4. Be patient and consistent with your practice – language learning takes time and effort, but these techniques can help you make the most of it.

Bonus tip: Use flashcards  or review sheets as a way to practice retrieval. Flashcards help you organize your material, and quickly review topics, while review sheets allow you to keep track of what information has been covered, and makes it easier to identify areas of weakness. 

Both are great tools for language learning!


By using spacing and retrieval practice together, you can learn a language more quickly and effectively than by relying on rote memorization alone. Give these techniques a try and see how they can help you reach your language learning goals. Good luck!

Happy studying!

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